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Chajju's Legacy & The Betel Leaf's Symbolism

Kapoor Gallaries

From being a delicacy of the bygone royalties to being an everyday pleasure of the (Indian) Common man, the Paan (Betel leaf) has traversed through ages of cultural shifts. The earliest reference of the Paan is mentioned in the Skandha Purana which dates back to the sixth century. The Paan is also believed to be one of the celestial objects obtained from the churning of the ocean (One of the Hindu mythic episodes) by the gods and demons for acquiring nectar. The present painting recounts the socio-cultural significance of the Paan ritual amongst royalty.

A princess enjoying paan on a terrace
Chhajju; Guler style at Chamba, circa 1790–1800
Opaque watercolor heightened with gold on paper
Image: 7 ⅜ x 7 in. (18.7 x 17.8 cm.)
Folio: 9 ⅛ x 8 ⅜ in. (23.2 x 21.3 cm.)

Spink & Son Ltd., London, 1985.

Seated on an open white marble terrace before a blossoming tree and flanking cypresses, the princess strikes a ruler's pose. She sits in a relaxed posture while wearing a courtly turban with an elaborate sarpech, atop a grand throne. The princess lifts a piece of paan to her mouth while two maids wait on her with a betel box and a chowrie. The ducks, captured in motion as they approach a small fountain in the foreground, highlight the fleeting moment frozen by this anonymous artist.

The painting is composed with a broad and vibrant color palette indicative of the Guler style. This naturalistic style of traditional Indian painting was developed by Hindu artists who were previously trained in the Mughal court. Paintings like this resulted from the patronage of Guler Rajas and typically possess a particular delicacy and spirituality, evidenced by the present composition.

Compare to four illustrations with similar female figures and vegetation published in Archer, Indian Paintings in the Punjab Hills, London, 1973, p.118, nos. 65–68. The present painting can be compared to this painting of A lady with the tambura at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London by Chajju. Another very stylistically similar example by Chajju is the following painting at the British Museum.

Chajju (c.1775-1850) was the son of Nikka, himself son of Nainsukh. However, Chajju is known to have worked in Chamba where Nikka had moved to find patronage under Raja Raj Singh.

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